Tritonic backers; welcome to day four of the Cheltenham Festival.
The popular McNeill Family-owned representative, formerly on the flat, is a big fancy for today’s Triumph Hurdle after two successful starts to life over timber thus far.
Adrian Heskin, his pilot on his duo of runs and in the Cheltenham Festival day four season opener, spoke to Cheltenham.co.uk about his charge in the Grade 1 curtain raiser. A 17-year-old winner at National Hunt’s greatest meeting 11 years ago, the Festival clearly holds plenty of meaning to the heart of the now-British citizen.
Max McNeill and co are chasing an illusive winner at Prestbury Park’s March showpiece; will it arrive on Friday afternoon?
Here’s Adrian’s thoughts ahead of the fourth and final day.
Your first Cheltenham Festival success came in the 2010 Cross County Chase with Michael Hourigan’s A New Story, describe the emotion from that day?
It was a fantastic day, from what I can remember from it – it seemed to go by in a bit of a blur. I was only 17 at the time and probably didn’t realise the magnitude of what had actually happened. Looking back now, it was something to be proud of.
You were employed by the McNeill Family as their retained rider in 2017 – how have you found the experience; it must be great to ride so many nice horses for many of the best trainers?
My association with Max and the McNeill Family has been great since we joined forces. They are fantastic people to work for and every winner I ride, be it for them or not for them, they’re delighted and every winner they have, I’m delighted. It’s a big team effort and we’re growing all the time, and hopefully, plenty of success to come in the future.
What is your favourite Cheltenham Festival memory?
My memories of A New Story are my favourite. To look back at that now, being such a young age and to come over and ride in one of the most skill-testing races, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, that was a huge achievement at the time and I realise now just how special it was.
How do you prepare for the Festival? Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I like to keep my mind busy and keep myself physically busy on the morning before a race. I go for a run when I get to the course and keep relatively calm and collected before a big day.
You are booked to ride the exciting Tritonic in the Triumph Hurdle on Friday; how do you rate his chances?
I’m really looking forward to riding him. Coming into the Festival he looks one of the highest profile English horses to run. The Irish haven’t made it easy for us all week and they’ve got a serious bunch of horses; the Triumph Hurdle looks no different. I wouldn’t swap Tritonic for another horse. Myself, Alan King and the McNeill Family absolutely love him, and hopefully he can strut his stuff on Friday.
Your final ride of the Festival is on board Threeunderthrufive in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, a race that you won back in 2015. Do you think he could cause an upset here?
We’ve been very happy with him all season. He’s 3-3 and myself, Paul and the McNeill Family don’t underestimate him coming into this race; we all think he has a big shout. A couple of weeks ago, he was probably a bit overpriced, but the public seem to have latched onto him a bit as well. He’s tailor-made for the race so hopefully he can give a good show.
Who will win the Gold Cup?
Al Boum Photo is the pick. The rest of the horses probably have a bit to find with him. I know we don’t get to see much of Al Boum Photo but when we do, he’s very impressive. His Cheltenham record speaks for itself.
What has Cheltenham been like without the crowds? Do you think it has made a difference without anyone in the stands?
It’s very sad that there’s no crowd at Cheltenham this year. You notice it when you walk through the gate – the atmosphere isn’t there. But, when you get onto your horse and down that walkway, it’s like the spotlights have been turned on and it’s just as competitive to ride in the races as ever. If you’re lucky enough to ride a winner, I’m sure you’ll feel the energy. It’s a fantastic place and we’re very lucky to be racing.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of racing?
I follow the breeding of horses very closely and I like to keep an eye on the sales, but nothing outside of horses – I haven’t got time for it!
What race would you most like to win and why?
I’d like to win the Triumph, because it’s my next big chance, so fingers crossed for Friday.
You had a great start to your career in Ireland, what made to come over to England and how do you find living over here?
I absolutely love living in the UK. I obviously had a great time of things in Ireland, riding for the likes of Michael Hourigan in the early part of my career, and then onto Barry Connell, and we had some great days together, including Festival success with Martello Tower. Things got a bit quieter for me when my association with Barry finished and I was very lucky to get a phone call from Tom George to ask if I’d like to ride for him in England. We had a couple of great years together, it worked out very well and I was lucky to meet Max McNeill along the way. He really gave me a new lease of life and if I could ride a Festival winner for him this week, it would be something of dreams.